The Bernie Sanders thing

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Well, and I’m going to attempt to write a note about Bernie Sanders, here in the end of the beginning of the primary season. Or the beginning of the end, maybe. At the moment, it looks as if Senator Sanders is likely to be the nominee of My Party for President—I’d make him around a 6-5 favorite, maybe 12-7 even—and I have thoughts and feelings about that. I just wish I knew what they were.

So. I’m a fan of the Senator from way back—I remember back in my college years being delighted when he won election to the House as an independent socialist! That was amazing. I liked him as a gadfly in the House (although I can’t honestly say I paid much attention to him in those years) which is where I feel gadflies belong. I was, then, disappointed by his decision to move to the Senate, which I feel is where logrollers, compromisers and big-tent coalition figures are best suited—but then I felt that he largely did a reasonably good job of walking the line between gadfly and productive Senator. I wasn’t initially keen on his run for President in 2016, but then was impressed by his ability to run a substantial national organization. By the time my state’s primary came around, I felt he had earned my vote (although in the end, I voted for the other candidate, who I also felt had earned my vote). When he decided to run again in 2020, I felt very skeptical that he would run a better campaign, and continued to be very skeptical about how he was running the campaign. Up until the Nevada caucus, when I felt he was finally showing what he had shown in 2016: that he could get the votes of people who had initially decided to support someone else.

There is, then, a certain pattern in my reaction to Bernie Sanders’ recent moves to further his political career: initial skepticism, followed by grudging respect. Followed, again, by further skepticism. Now, that’s not actually a bad attitude to take to politicians and office-holders generally, but it’s certainly different from my attitude toward several other people I see as inspirational. Why is that? Why am I not inspired by the Bernie thing, when so many people are? I don’t actually know.

I find that I am trying to reason myself into support for the Sanders candidacy, which seems odd. He’s certainly the candidate closest to my actual policy beliefs. Is it some lingering sense of ‘electability’? I mean, I say all the time that electability is bunk—because it is—but I’m as susceptible as anyone else to the conclusion that this time I understand how the voters will behave. I don’t believe that a Bernie Sanders candidacy will instantly solve the non-voter problem (and any candidacy that does bring in new voters on one side is likely to bring in new voters on the other, in an unpredictable ratio) but I also don’t believe that moderate Democrats will choose to sit out a Trump/Sanders election in vast numbers. Why, then, am I uneasy?

I think, perhaps, part of it is that his nomination will mean more (and more prominent) anti-Semitism (in the sense that a lot of criticism of the candidate will be in terms I interpret as partaking of assumptions and biases about Jews) and that makes me anxious. I don’t think it will be Bad for Jews, in the broader sense, but there will be a bunch of experiences I will find unpleasant, personally. But the upcoming election will be packed with experiences I will find unpleasant anyway, right?

Four years ago, I wrote that “Bernie Sanders becoming President of the United States is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for the success of the movement supporting him.” I don’t know whether I still think that was true about the movement in 2016, or whether I think it’s still true about his support in 2020.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

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